IWS and the culture it fosters are critical to P&G’s ability to weather — and even thrive during — disruptions that could sink less-capable organizations. The company saw this firsthand when the COVID-19 crisis hit, which resulted not only in massive shifts in demand but also health and safety concerns for P&G employees — especially the shop floor workers whose jobs couldn’t be done remotely. Every P&G plant around the world suddenly had to determine how to keep their lines running to continue meeting consumers’ demands while implementing a wide range of health protocols and staffing adjustments to prevent or inhibit the virus’s spread. With workers steeped in the principles and culture of IWS, facilities were mobilized quickly to address the disruptions and associated challenges.
Here is the experience of a P&G plant and how the collaborative efforts of plant leaders and line workers, combined with the foundation provided by IWS and its standards, enabled them to rapidly and creatively adapt to the current landscape.
Albany, Georgia: operating in one of the hottest of hot spots
A US city of around 75,000 people in southern Georgia, Albany made national news for its struggle with COVID-19. At one point, Albany had the fourth-highest outbreak of COVID-19 cases per capita in the US and saw its small hospital overrun in a matter of weeks.
The situation was dire for the city and a huge potential threat to the P&G plant there, which employs 900 people from the surrounding area. “It’s a very tight-knit community,” recalls Farid Khan, Plant Manager, P&G Albany. “It’s not unusual for someone to know at least one person who works in the plant.”
The plant, which produces P&G paper products, was coming off a strong 2019 and preparing to deliver record results in the first quarter of 2020. But in mid-February, the plant began seeing signs that things weren’t normal.
Unexpected demand spikes in Albany
“I'm meeting with my central planners and I couldn't understand why my demand was going a lot higher than what we were producing,” says Khan. “We were like, ‘Something doesn't look right. Folks look like they're buying a lot more paper towel and toilet paper.’ We didn’t know why, but all the signals were showing that we were going to have to start up more production lines.”
An older paper machine, idled for a decade, was pressed into service. With the help of employees on loan from other paper plants, Albany was able to get the machine up and running at 50% capacity. But demand continued to surge, and the Albany plant was directed to have the machine at full capacity in short order.
At the same time, it was becoming clear that a pandemic was coming and the plant needed to prepare for the worst. That included determining what to do if COVID-19 hit the plant. How could the plant continue to operate at the capacity it needed to, if lines had to be shut down while employees are quarantined? “We knew that the health and safety of our people come first, and that we would give up production before we compromised that,” says Khan. “Our people needed to feel safe coming to work.”
With that as the objective, Khan and his team set about developing contingency plans and a wide range of very robust health and safety protocols. After the first COVID-19-related death in the city, these were rolled out across the plant. Then the team of loaned employees who were running the old machine returned to their home bases, leaving Albany to consider how to keep the machine operational. Wanting to continue meeting the plant’s production targets, Khan and his team decided to hire new workers to run it. But throwing nearly 50 new employees into a demanding, uncertain and constantly changing environment — to run equipment they know nothing about — could be a recipe for disaster.
IWS helps workers get up to speed
The education and training element within IWS, which includes pairing every new hire with an experienced team for coaching and mentoring, enabled new employees to get up to speed quickly and the old machine to continue to produce.
There were plenty of other challenges that the plant experienced. However, the Albany plant came through the crisis to this point with flying colors, producing 20% more volume than it ever has in nearly 50 years with no breakdowns or failures due to maintenance shortcuts. This was the case, despite having to hire a significant number of new employees for a very high-pressure environment.
“We knew the plant was facing potentially big losses, and it was very important that employees took ownership of mitigating loss where we can,” Khan observes. “The power of engaging each and every person at the plant allows us to give them the autonomy to make decisions when needed.”